US Activists Seek A Wider Audience For Sarajevo's Paper

WHEN the siege of Sarajevo began in 1992, the city's largest daily newspaper, Oslobodenje, became a popular target. Shelling and sniper fire have since shredded the building, killing five employees and wounding 20 more.

But the editors of Oslobodenje refused to scuttle. While every other newspaper in the city shut down, Oslobodenje moved its operation to safer quarters in the basement.

Oslobodenje, or ``Liberation,'' provides the lone Sarajevan perspective on a war that has killed thousands of its readers. It also publishes personal messages and death notices that are the only source of information for outsiders on the well-being of besieged friends and relatives.

When Oslobodenje editors recently came to the United States seeking funds to meet the paper's $2,000 daily operating costs, some Americans were compelled to help. Colleen London, a former resident of Sarajevo for seven years, came up with the idea of publishing an English translation of Oslobodenje.

Since then, Ms. London has joined forces with Bosnian relief activist Beverly Britton-Elkashef of Alexandria, Va. The two women approached Oslobodenje editor Kemal Kurspahic, who agreed to the idea and offered to send articles for translation.

London and Ms. Britton-Elkashef have since launched a campaign to raise funds to print 50,000 copies of a monthly English-language edition of Oslobodenje. In a telephone interview, London says she has won ``initial interest'' from several newspaper publishers who might donate the use of their presses for the project.

The wider distribution of Oslobodenje's perspective would add a ``unique and enlightening'' voice to international efforts to end the Bosnian war, says Steven Walker, executive director of The American Committee to Save Bosnia, a Washington-based lobby.

Mr. Walker, a former State Department official who resigned over Washington's Bosnia policy, says that London's project is emblematic of efforts by many individual Americans to hasten the war's end and provide relief for its victims.

In a New York speech last December, editor Zlatko Dizdarevic said Oslobodenje is an invaluable symbol for the people of Sarajevo. ``By publishing our paper, we create the illusion that normal life can continue,'' he said. ``Americans should realize that normal life in Sarajevo ... means that there is no chance for fascism and racism.''

Britton-Elkashef, founder and director of a relief agency called the Lifeline Network for Bosnia, recently returned from Sarajevo. She says the newspaper's existence alone is remarkable. ``The [Oslobodenje] building looks like the post-nuclear-holocaust set of the Planet of the Apes,'' she says. ``It's hard to believe that these people are actually underneath it putting a paper out.''

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